By Chris Kieffer
Jaime Flores loved it when the soccer fields at Ballard Park were empty late in the afternoon.
This is what I needed, he thought as he knelt in the yellow-green grass to tie his Adidas soccer cleats, the crisp December air lingering in his nostrils.
He dropped his ball in the middle of the field and nudged it with the top of his right foot just enough to flick the ball into the air.
He then tapped it in succession with the inside of his right foot, his left knee, his head, his right shoulder and his chest before letting it fall back onto the turf.
Jaime charged the bouncing ball, gaining control of it with his feet and sprinted down the right side of the field before stopping abruptly at a point about 20 yards from the goal and ripping a shot into the net.
Jaime did similar drills for about an hour until his white long-sleeved T-shirt was soaked with sweat. On the front, near his heart, was the blue and gold logo of the UNAL Tigres, his favorite team from Monterrey, Mexico.
Jaime played soccer to find peace. And today, he really needed peace.
It had been three years since Jaime and his father, Esteban, had moved to Tupelo from Monterrey and three years since he’d lived with his wife and two sons. Although he spoke with them on the phone several times a week, he’d seen them only a few times since the move.
Jaime and Esteban were working hard to bring them to Mississippi. Between Jaime’s job as a mechanic and Esteban’s work as construction foreman, they nearly had enough money.
But lately the bills for his dog, Paz, were beginning to pile up. The Lab had lost her leg after being hit by a car just a few months earlier. There had been bills for the surgery – and Jaime had paid them all without thinking. He loved that dog so much, and he knew his boys did, too.
Just three days ago during an annual checkup, Paz was diagnosed with cancer.The cost of the treatment would be astronomical. And Jaime was beginning to think about euthanasia.
As he merged his beige 2001 Toyota Corolla onto West Main Street, he flipped to American Family Radio. His mind drifted back to the conversation he had had with Esteban the previous day.
Of course he didn’t believe that woman at the hospital had really sent a message from his dead mom.
Did she really say, “Take care of Paz?” Why would his dad make something up about Paz? He hadn’t told anyone about the dog’s diagnosis. What if? No.
He had to find out. He turned his car toward home.
n n n
“A la izquierda,” Esteban said. “A la izquierda.” To the left. To the left.
“That is what she told me,” Esteban continued. “I don’t know what she means. If I was going to make up a story, it’d be a lot better than that.”
“OK, Papa. But you said there was something else. Something about me.”
“She said, ‘Take care of Paz, Jaime. Paz is important.’”
Once again Jaime turned pale when he heard these words, once again he hoped his father didn’t notice.
He tried to fake a smile. “I did think your story would be better, Papa.”
n n n
As Jaime walked into the hospital with Paz at his side, he took a deep breath and slowly strolled down the corridor toward Room 316. The door sign identified it as the room of Helen St. Cloud. He’d been waiting for this moment all day.
Jaime entered the room with Paz beside him and found it empty except for a woman slumped upon a bed, motionless. He’d never seen her before. He knew his dad was making it up. But why had his dad seemed so hurt by his disbelief the night before?
Jaime lingered for a couple of minutes, his eyes scanning the walls, the woman in the bed, “Bonanza” on television.
Mrs. St. Cloud began to sit up and looked like she was about to say something. Jaime inched closer.
“Mi jalapeñito” – my little chili pepper – she said with a pronunciation that reminded Jaime so much of his mother. No one besides her had ever called him that. Now, his eyes were fixed on this odd woman.
“Bring your family to America,” she said in Spanish. “It is time. It is your responsibility.
“And take care of Paz. There are two girls in Tupelo who will need her. You will see.”
Monday: Chapter 7 – Curious Claire is put in jeopardy.
Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal